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New California police transparency laws

 March 8, 2023 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Wednesday, March 8th.

California has new transparency laws that tell us more about police misconduct. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

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S-D-S-U has announced the death of a professor who contracted legionnaire’s disease last month.

Professor Michael Buono died Saturday of the disease.

He taught at the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences.

The building was closed for cleaning and testing on February 13th following the diagnosis, and it remains closed.

The school could not confirm his identity until yesterday, because of privacy laws.

In a statement … S-D-S-U says … the world and our S-D-S-U community won’t be the same without Doctor Buono.

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There are new concerns about traveling to Mexico, after four U-S citizens were kidnapped at gunpoint after crossing the border at Brownsville, Texas.

Now, the state department has issued a "do not travel" warning for five Mexican states.

The state department is also warning Americans to reconsider travel to Baja California.

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The San Bernardino County Sheriff's department says snow is beginning to melt in the mountains... and some roads have been re-opened to residents.

But some in the mountain communities say rescue efforts have been inadequate.

KPBS talked to Lynn, a Lake Arrowhead resident who didn't want to give her last name.

“So, neighbors are doing the best they can to help each other. I know there's firemen and people trying to help. It's just not enough.”

Dozens of San Diego firefighters are in the area, helping with rescue efforts.

The San Diego Humane Society is also helping.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

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A new state law requires local police departments to release some police misconduct records.

But reporter Gustavo Solis says we still don’t have all the information.

A warning, this story contains graphic sounds and images.

It started as a simple 911 call about three young people being  drunk in public at around 7 a.m. on a Sunday in August 2017. Come here. Yes, you. Come here. One man turned around and punched Romberger in the arm, according to the Internal Affairs investigation. The call ended with one young man getting a bloody lip from having his face smashed into a police vehicle, and the other in the back of a police car covered in pepper spray. At one point, Officer Timothy Romberger grabbed a young man by the neck - a violation of department policy. Stand still, stand still, why are you choking me? This is audio from police body camera footage (This video was) made public because of a new state law aimed at shining a light on police misconduct records. California’s transparency laws used to be a black hole. David Loy, First Amendment Coalition “Historically, California is one of the least transparent states on records about law enforcement operations, investigations, misconduct and use of force.” That’s David Loy. Legal director with the First Amendment Coalition. He says a new state law is trying to change that. Under Senate Bill 16, California police agencies are required to publish records on several categories of police misconduct. They include violations like discrimination and excessive force. But the law only makes public records when officers did something wrong. Loy says that despite  the progress, California still lags behind other states when it comes to transparency. “California has opened the door on transparency and that’s a good thing. But it still has a long way to go to rise to the standard of other states that are much more transparent and accountable as to law enforcement.” The San Diego Police Department released records for 93 cases. But one third of them don’t contain disciplinary records. Romberger’s case is a good example of that. Despite having ten violations during that one interaction, there is no record of him being disciplined. What’s your beef man. Officer pulls man out by the neck and throws him to the ground. Investigators say Romberger grabbed the young man by the neck and threw him to the ground, even though he was handcuffed and not resisting. Then when he was sitting in the back of the patrol car, Romberger doused him with pepper spray. From a distance of 12 to 18 inches. Double the recommended distance of three feet. Romberger also didn’t offer medical attention. Quick kicking the seat. Officer pepper spraying someone who isn’t doing anything. Romberger stayed on the force until 2019 – when he was arrested for felony assault. Romberger could not be reached for comment. His attorney told police investigators that Romberger had been “going through a turbulent personal situation with his wife and mother of his child,” which may have contributed to his state of mind at the time. San Diego Police Captain Jeff Jordon oversees the records department. He wouldn’t do an interview. He says the department only keeps disciplinary records for three years after an officer leaves the force. Romberger left the SDPD three-and-a-half years ago. CaptDan “I think a general conception is police just try to white wash things” Former La Mesa Police Captain Dan Willis says SB 16 is a good thing. Transparency helps build trust. “But that’s not in our best interest to have a cop out there doing bad stuff. Either within the agency or in the community. That’s a cancer.” Willis now runs wellness training sessions for police departments. He says officers don’t know how to cope with the stress and trauma of police work - which leads them to be more impulsive and aggressive. CaptDan “Because if officers aren’t resilient, are not well in heart, mind, body and spirit, they’re not going to be professional good effective officers, the community is going to be less safe.” Gustavo Solis, KPBS News.

TAG: This story was reported with inewsource, an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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San Diego County Supervisors have hired outside lawyers to investigate alleged misconduct in the public defender’s office.

Investigative reporter Amita Sharma has more.

KPBS has obtained a copy of a letter sent last month by the  San Diego law firm Meyers Nave to current and former deputy public defenders. The letter states the firm has been retained to probe discrimination and retaliation complaints against the public defender’s office. The inquiry coincides with a recent jury verdict that awarded ex-public defender Zack Davina $2.6 million in damages.  The county recently settled a similar case with Michelle Reynoso, another ex-public defender, for $900,000. Davina says the independent investigation is long overdue. “I’ve always advocated for this and now it seems like the only way they would take it seriously is through litigation and that’s where we ended up here and so I’m grateful that it is happening and I have hope for it.” The county sent a statement late Tuesday afternoon saying it takes seriously any allegation of wrongdoing in the workplace. Amita Sharma, KPBS News.

TAG: A story on Monday misstated the settlement received by Michelle Reynoso.

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San Diego County courts ordered employers to pay back more than 20-million-dollars in stolen wages between 20-18 and 20-22… but how much of that money workers actually got back is unclear.

inewsource reporter Sofía Mejías Pascoe explains.

MEJÍAS-PASCOE: Wage theft – when employers withhold wages and other compensation from employees – is the most common form of theft. But the state agency responsible for safeguarding workers rights, the Labor Commissioner, does not always keep track of when employers pay back employees. The agency said it relies on workers or employers to tell them when stolen wages are paid back, but in most cases, that doesn’t happen. Of the $20 million in court-ordered payments, just 4% was reported as fully paid back to workers, according to the Labor Commissioner. For KPBS, I’m inewsource reporter Sofía Mejías-Pascoe.

TAG: inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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Coming up.... I speak with our KPBS news director and digital editor about the new KPBS public safety coverage policy. We’ll have that and more, next, just after the break.

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From fires to crime news, KPBS covers a wide variety of public safety stories. Now, our newsroom has created a public safety coverage policy.

KPBS News Director Terence Shepherd and Digital Editor Elma Gonzalez Lima spoke with KPBS radio anchor Debbie Cruz about the new policy.

TAG: You can read the KPBS News public safety policy, at KPBS-DOT-ORG-SLASH-POLICIES.

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The S-D-S-U men’s basketball team heads to the Mountain West Championship for its quarterfinal game tomorrow.

Reporter Melissa Mae caught up with the team before they took off to Las Vegas.

MM: San Diego State men’s basketball team is the outright 2022-23 Mountain West regular-season champion and is going into the Mountain West tournament as the number one seed. MM: Head coach Brian Dutcher says the team is grateful that SDSU fans make the trip to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. BD “Our Aztec fans are loyal. They’re passionate. They make that drive, especially if we get by the Thursday game. They’re going to be there in force on Friday and Saturday. So, that’s always the best part, having our Aztec fans follow us. It gives us comfort on a road floor, making it feel like a home game.” MM: Thursday’s game will be at noon… against the winner of Wednesday’s game between Colorado State and Fresno State. MM: While the Mountain West Championship is the next challenge, after that comes the NCAA tournament, and the Aztecs are confident. Melissa Mae KPBS News.

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That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great Wednesday.

A new state law requires local police departments to release some police misconduct records. In other news, San Diego County Supervisors have hired outside lawyers to investigate alleged misconduct in the public defender’s office. Plus, we have details on the new KPBS public safety coverage policy.